July 27, 2017
Horvitz & Levy LLP has successfully represented Exxon Mobil and Union Oil Company of California in a series of mass toxic tort appeals arising from injuries allegedly suffered by more than 600 plaintiffs following exposure to a variety of organic solvents.
The most recent appeal in this coordinated proceeding involved the trial court’s grant of summary judgment against the remaining 363 plaintiffs, based on a finding that collateral estoppel precluded plaintiffs from offering expert testimony supporting on the issue of medical causation. The trial court ruled that these plaintiffs were in privity with prior plaintiffs, whose claims were dismissed for lack of adequate scientific foundation supporting their expert’s causation opinion.
In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeal (Second District, Division Three) affirmed. The Court of Appeal determined that the trial court’s application of collateral estoppel based on a finding of privity between the two groups of plaintiffs was correct because (1) the remaining plaintiffs’ and the prior plaintiffs’ interests were aligned; (2) the prior plaintiffs had reason to understand they were acting in a representative capacity; and (3) the trial court implemented adequate procedures to protect the remaining plaintiffs’ interests by giving the remaining plaintiffs “every opportunity” to submit evidence supporting causation. The Court of Appeal also held that the application of collateral estoppel “complied with due process because all plaintiffs had notice that the trial court’s causation rulings would be binding in future proceedings and the remaining plaintiffs were adequately represented by the plaintiffs whose claims were adjudicated to a final judgment.”